Prologue from Ochrid - March 22 [April 4]
1. The Hieromartvr Basil, Priest of Ancyra.
Under the Emperor Constantius there was much suffering at the hands of the Arians. At that time, Basil became known as a staunch defender of Orthodoxy and a true shepherd of his flock in Ancyra. When, after Constantius, Julian the Apostate came to the throne and began to persecute the Christians, Basil openly denounced this new wickedness and encouraged his people in the Faith. For this he was thrown into prison. When the Emperor Julian came to Ancyra, Basil was brought before him and he began to urge Basil to abandon the Christian faith, promising him honours and wealth. Then Basil answered him: 'I believe in my Christ, whom you have denied and who gave you this earthly kingdom, but He will shortly take this from you. How can you have no shame before the altar under which you were saved from death as an eight-year-old child when they sought to kill you? Therefore He will soon take this earthly kingdom from you, and your body shall not be buried when you have spewed forth your soul in bitter torments.' Julian was furious and ordered that seven strips of skin be torn from his body every day. And his torturers carried this out for seven days. When Basil was brought out again before the Emperor, he tore a strip of his own flesh off and threw it into Julian's face, shouting: 'Take this and eat it, Julian, if such food is sweet to you, but Christ is life for me!' This occurrence was noised in the town, and the Emperor left Ancyra in secret out of shame and went to Antioch. And they continued to torture Basil with red hot irons until he surrendered his soul to his Lord for whom he had suffered so much. This was in the year 363.
2. St Drosida.
The daughter of the Emperor Trajan, she was seized with five other women when they were gathering the bodies of the martyrs who had suffered for Christ by night, and was for this cruelly mutilated by the Emperor. The five women were terribly tortured and at last thrown into molten copper, where they surrendered their souls to their Lord. But Drosida remained under strict imperial guard. However, she escaped from the court and baptised herself in a river. After eight days she gave her soul into God's hands.
3. Our Holy Father, the Martyr Euthymius.
Born in the village of Dimitsana in the Peloponnese, he lived as a Christian as a boy, but later went to Romania and there gave himself over to great debauchery. In this debasement, the evil spirit led him to embrace Islam. No sooner had he done so than he began to repent bitterly. He returned to the Christian faith and became a monk on the Holy Mountain. After several years spent in strict fasting and prayer, he made up his mind to die for Christ. With the blessing of his spiritual father, he went to Constantinople, where he somehow succeeded in gaining access to the Grand Vizier. He began to make the sign of the Cross in front of him, to praise Christ and to denounce Mahomet. After long-drawn-out torture, he was condemned to death and was slain on March 22nd, 1814, on Palm Sunday. Many miraculous hearings of the sick were wrought through his relics. His precious head is in the Russian monastery of St Panteleimon on the Holy Mountain. Thus this twenty-year-old youth first died to Christ and then died for Christ.
Even in His pain on the cross, the Lord Jesus did not condemn sinners but offered pardon to His Father for their sins saying, "They know not what they do!" (St. Luke 23:34). Let us not judge anyone so that we will not be judged. For no one is certain that before his death he will not commit the same sin by which he condemns his brother. Saint Anastasius of Sinai teaches, "Even if you see someone sinning, do not judge him for you do not know what the end of his life will be like. The thief, crucified with Christ, entered Paradise and the Apostle Judas went to Hell. Even if you see someone sinning, bear in mind that you do not know his good works. For many have sinned openly and repented in secret; we see their sins, but we do not know their repentance. That is why, brethren, let us not judge anyone so that we will not be judged."
To contemplate the Lord Jesus crucified on the cross:
- How infinite is His sorrow for mankind blinded by sin;
- How His thoughts on the cross are directed more to His Heavenly Father than to Himself;
- How His concern on the cross is directed more at mankind than to Himself;
- How on the cross He is certain of His Victory and Resurrection.
About the majesty of Christ the Victor
"The hair of His head was as white wool or as snow and His eyes were like a fiery flame" (Revelation 1:14).
That is how John the Theologian (the one who gazed upon God) saw Jesus after His resurrection and victory. He saw Him as the Son of Man, clothed in a lengthy garment, girded about with a golden sash, with seven stars in His right hand, and His face "shone like the sun at its brightest" (Revelation 1:16). It was with this kind of power and glory that He appeared, Who on the cross was not radiant and Who seemed to be as the weakest of the sons of men to all the passersby. Why were His hairs like white wool and white as snow? Was not our Lord barely thirty-four years old when they killed Him? From where, then, His white hair? Does not white hair indicate old age? It is true that white hair does indicate old age with mortal man, but with Christ in Glory it indicated more than old age; it indicated eternity. Eternal youthful age! Old age is the past and youth is the future. At the same time, is He not the one and the other? More than all the times past and all future times and even beyond time, Christ is eternity beyond time. Why were His eyes like a flame of fire? Because He is the All-seeing. All sorts of things can be hidden from the sun, but of all that is in the heavens, on the earth or under the earth, nothing can be hidden from His sight. He perceives all the threads of the fabric of nature; He perceives all the atoms in the stones, every drop of water in the sea, every particle of air and all thoughts and all desires of every created soul. This is the One and the same and no other; He who out of compassion for the human race came to earth, clothed Himself in a mortal and suffering body, was ridiculed, was mocked and was spat upon by sinful men. That is the same One, and no other, Who, without radiance, hung on the cross between thieves and, as a dead man, was buried by Joseph and Nicodemus.
O brethren, how awesome it is to think what a great and majestic Visitor the earth had! It is even more awesome to think against Whom the deranged men raised their hands!
O Majestic Lord, forgive us our sins and remember us all in Your Power and Glory.
To You all glory and thanks always. Amen.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK